That Nick McCarthy almost gave up on his dream and everything he had worked so tirelessly for, tells you all you need to know about the heavy burden that weighed on his young shoulders.
That’s the thing with professional athletes, you never really know what’s going on behind the scenes until they speak out and make it clear that, although they are often put on a pedestal, sport stars are not immune to life’s everyday pressures.
For McCarthy, that amounted to coming to terms with his sexuality, because before he could do so publicly, he had to learn to become comfortable in his own skin.
The sad reality is, not everyone is able to do so, not least a 27-year-old in an apparent ‘macho male’ rugby dressing-room. Yet, McCarthy’s decision to come out as gay not only speaks volumes for his strong character, but also the open culture that exists in Leinster.
Without that, McCarthy could easily have packed in rugby and decided to pursue another career, when he clearly still has a lot to offer as a scrum-half.
That he didn’t call it a day is a testament to a more welcoming society, which is slowly getting to grips with the fact that people come in all different shapes, sizes, colours and sexualities, and while there is still a long way to go, people like McCarthy are leading the way for others who are struggling with who they are.
In 2022, that’s a sad place for any individual to be, yet until more gay people are visible, a certain taboo will exist, when in reality, everyone should be free to be their own person, regardless of how that looks.
McCarthy first approached Leinster coaches Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster last November, as he told them of the personal demons he had been battling away from the rugby pitch.
Two months later, he came out to his Leinster team-mates, but his bravest decision of all was to do so publicly.
It would have been very easy for the Dubliner to have kept his sexuality out of the public sphere, but following in the footsteps of his team-mate Jack Dunne, McCarthy recognised the good it would do for himself, as well as others who are dealing with similar issues.
Dunne (23) is about to leave Leinster for Exeter, but this time last year, he spoke about his bisexuality and how he had spent years hiding it
No doubt inspired by the reaction to Dunne, McCarthy felt comfortable enough to also come out, which is a sure sign of just how important it is for gay people to be visible.
Rugby has made huge strides in recent years through trailblazers like former Wales and Lions centre Gareth Thomas, well-respected referees Nigel Owens and Joy Neville, while the likes of ex-Ireland rugby, basketball international and Dublin footballer Lindsay Peat, and current Ireland football captain Katie McCabe have also broken new ground.
That’s not to say rugby is perfect because it’s not, yet it is clear that there has been a welcome shift to becoming more inclusive.
Just last weekend, former Olympic champion Kelly Holmes came out as gay, another whom many aspiring athletes look up to.
At 52, it took Holmes some time to feel comfortable enough to open up publicly, and while she is to be commended for doing so, current players like McCarthy and Dunne will really inspire young people for the simple fact that they are still so heavily involved in professional sport.
That’s why Jake Daniels made so many headlines last month when he came out as gay. For a 17-year-old footballer to have had the bravery to do so was remarkable, because make no mistake about it, it takes guts to put yourself out there like that.
Daniels – a Blackpool forward, is currently the only active male professional footballer in the UK, which is staggering, when you think that on the law of averages, there are surely more gay players playing their trade in the various leagues of football.
But unless you walk in their shoes, you will never fully understand the stresses and pressures of coming out.
Take Josh Cavallo, for example. Just two months after he became the only openly gay professional top flight men’s footballer in the world, the Australian suffered alleged homophobic abuse during an A-League Men game back in January.
Unfortunately, there are idiots in all walks of life, which is what makes these current sport stars coming out all the more admirable.
McCarthy says: “Your sexuality is just a part of who you are, and life is better when you can be yourself. I’m so much happier than I was a few months ago and I’m optimistic for the future.”
At the end of the day, that’s what truly matters.